HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >

Discussion

Real Italian Food Vs. American Italian Food

What distinguishes these two, really? With Chinese food, it's a bit obvious, with nearly everything sweet, and Indian food tends to lack the spice it typically does, but what about Italian? What is considered American Italian and what's actually Italian?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. American Italian is cooked by 3rd generation descendants of Sicilian immigrants. Real Italian is cooked by people who spent a year abroad in Milan during college. :)

    17 Replies
      1. re: lynnlato

        Lol! Perfect! I once had my brother-in-law, Irish-American, explain to me how food was cooked in the Italian home. He spent a semester abroad in Italy.

      2. re: paulj

        Swap Sicily for Naples and I'm with you. The majority of Italian-Americans are of Neapolitan descent.

        1. re: southernitalian

          Really? I thought Sicilian heritage predominated.

            1. re: anonymouse1935

              Interesting. I just did an extremely quick (two minute) google and from what I could discern, the majority of Italians who immigrated to the south of the US (specifically to New Orleans), were Sicilians. The northern cities, particularly NYC and Chicago, were predominantly from the region around Naples. Guess that's why almost every Italian-American I know and am related to is of Neopolitan descent.

              1. re: southernitalian

                I find your 2 minute search interesting. I grew up in Brooklyn (Boro Park) and went to jr high/high schools in Bensonhurst. All my Italian friends were 2nd generation of Scilian folk. All 3 schools were 1/2 Italian, 1/2 Jewish (nominal amount "other").

                1. re: southernitalian

                  Whereas most Italians on the West Coast are from Northern Italy. So you can't really categorize it.

                  1. re: EatingSF

                    Yes, I think a great many of N. California Italians originated in Liguria,

                    I lived in Brooklyn as a kid -- my much older sister married into a Sicilian family -- the dad had the last working "farm" in Brooklyn, two whole entire blocks of veggies.

                    1. re: EatingSF

                      San Francisco has more Northern Italians--my family are from Florence, Parma, Genoa and up the hill from La Spezia, but plenty of Sicilians were fishermen here, too. My great grandfather had a vegetable farm in SF before the '06 quake. Not only that, but SF Italian Americans eat SOUR DOUGH BREAD. It wasn't until I went to Italy that I realized that Italians don't eat sour dough. Having grown up in SF, i assumed everyone ate it. Now that authenticity rules in Italian restaurants around here, you can't get sour dough in an Italian restaurant -- too bad.

                      1. re: dianelivia

                        But Italians, from what I understand, use a "biga" in their breads which is a somewhat fermented dough. It's not sourdough but does enhance the flavor of breads.

              2. re: paulj

                Real Italian food is cooked by Italians who are born and raised in Italy.

                1. re: kappasan9

                  If you are in eating out in Italy you are eating food cooked by Albanians, Romanians, and other immigrants. I still consider it Italian food.

                  1. re: bookhound

                    +1. A brief look at the history of modern Italy tells us this!

                    1. i sometimes think about the question, too. and it is a little difficult for me to put my thought into writing.
                      i believe that any cuisine should be thought along with its history and its nature of people (in this case italians.) italians are known for their skills. you know renaissance, da vinci, and many other artists and craftsman. that spirits is what makes italian cuisine so great, i believe. modern italians try to keep the tradition.
                      american italians are also good. but they substitute a lot of ingredients, i think.
                      i actually want to hear if real italians like american italian food. or what they think of american italian.

                      1. American Italian food is the food of the southernmost part of Italy, tweaked to accommodate our love of meat and sweet. The cooking of other regions of Italy can certainly be found here, but it's not what I'd call "American Italian."

                        1. For me, American Italian cuisine is exemplified by pasta dishes tend to be drenched in too sweet sauce made with whatever tomatoes and too much cheese on top. Plus the pasta is overcooked until limp and dead. Real Italian pasta dishes have just enough sauce and cheese to lightly coat the pasta so that you can appreciate the quality and taste of the pasta . The sauce is not oversweetened for the American palate, the tomatoes (if it's a red sauce) is Roma variety and the pasta is cooked al dente.

                          81 Replies
                          1. re: SeoulQueen

                            seems like you, and many others, have only had bad versions of american-italian food.

                            1. re: thew

                              Yep. That's certainly not the Italo-Yank food I'm accustomed to in restaurants, nor the kind I prepare in my kitchen.

                              1. re: thew

                                That was my impression. Then again, I was lucky enough (at least in terms of Italian food) to grow up in RI, and have always lived on the East Coast, where there is no shortage of good Italian food. All this talk about "sweetness" sounds strange to me.

                                1. re: Bob W

                                  Sounds like a description of fast food Italian. Domino's maybe?

                                  1. re: coll

                                    Fazoli's? Never been there but heard terrible things about it.

                                2. re: thew

                                  Walk into any Olive Garden or Romano's or any of those national chain Italian restaurants and that's what you get. I'm taking the view that the OP wanted to know what the average American (not a CHer) considers "italian" food. Personally, I am very particular about Italian food, esp. after having traveled extensively through Italy and having my Italian friend's mother and grandmother cook for me. Now THAT was real Italian food.

                                  1. re: SeoulQueen

                                    There are literally thousands of trattorias and mom n' pop pizzerias in the US that are simultaneously vastly superior to Olive Garden and cater to regular food folks, not Chowhounds. The food served in these trattorias and pizzerias does not fit your depracatory description.

                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                      I have no more to support my opinion than you, but I'm betting there are also "thousands of trattorias and mom n' pop pizzerias in the US" that are INFERIO to Olive Garden. Non-chain/local doesn't mean that it's good.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        All you have to do is watch a few episodes of Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares- or any other restaurant makeover show- to see that. You're right on, Khan

                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                          Of coarse, Olive Garden and other big chains would NEVER let Gordon Ramsey in any of their kitchens so the point is moot. And you know, some of those chains have some really bad things going on.

                                          Google: Guy Takes Bath in Burger King Sink

                                3. re: SeoulQueen

                                  My father used to get up early on Sunday morning and start his "gravy" from canned Roma tomatoes that cooked all day. Using bottled or canned sauce in our house would be considered an outrage! Dad also made the meatballs himself, rolling and pan frying them before adding them to the gravy.

                                  We would often have hot and mild Italian sausage in the sauce and sometimes my mother would make stuffed squid, which was really special. She would clean the squid and stuff it with a seasoned breadcrumb mixture, pan fry it and then add it to the sauce. It would cook all day and the red sauce would permeate the squid and stuffing and would also add a sort of marine taste to the sauce. Divine! She would lightly flour and pan fry the squid legs and they were usually gone by dinner time.

                                  Wow, I need to re-create the squid recipe very soon...

                                  1. re: MysticYoYo

                                    Great memories! Thanks for sharing.

                                    1. re: MysticYoYo

                                      Sounds yummy and nice story. You must've had many wonderful dinners in your household.

                                      1. re: MysticYoYo

                                        That sounds SO good!! Now that is italian !! Good italian food is hard to come by in restaurants.

                                        1. re: flaglinda

                                          This sounds utterly lovely, and also bridges the gap between homeland Italian and "American Italian" foods (whether one means just US or anywhere from Canada to Argentina). I don't think all food by people of Italian descent elsewhere is necessarily debased or crap fastfood. It is of course influenced by the cooking of the country to which the migrants travelled.

                                          1. re: MysticYoYo

                                            so would my mother doing the same (only shes not italian)(nor is my family italian)
                                            that wouldnt be italian food?
                                            we didnt do the squid part...
                                            but i remember my mother making italian meatballs and making sauce(gravy) all day

                                            1. re: srsone

                                              I see someone else calls it "gravy." Our family always has, but we've gone round and round about whether it should be called sauce or gravy. When i make it, i definitely call it gravy. Google translation says gravy translates into "sugo" while sauce translates into "salsa." But when you ask for Italian to English, it says sugo translates into "sauce."

                                              My grandmother made the best gravy ever...here's a picture of her sitting on the Marina Green in SF around 1974. (most of her face got cut off during upload).

                                               
                                              1. re: dianelivia

                                                ive called it both...

                                                my sister married a part italian...his family called it that as well...iirc

                                                1. re: dianelivia

                                                  The thumbnail (small image) of the picture is cropped, but click on it and it enlarges to show the whole thing.

                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                    Thanks. It's one of the pictures i love of her. Now, this woman could cook. Lamb shanks, polenta w/gravy, anything she made tasted good. she was the daughter of immigrants, but learned to cook from her immigrant-sister-in-law. they were from a tiny town outside Lucca.

                                                    My other grandmother, daughter of immigrants, -- her people were from a part of Tuscany called Lunigiana. She was an even better cook -- her gravy, ravioli, etc. They all tended to cook anything with an italian flare. I long for those ravioli now.

                                              2. re: MysticYoYo

                                                that sounds fantastic.

                                                but the very fact that you call it "gravy" tells me that you're describing American Italian food, not Italian food. (I didn't replicate the OP's term "Real Italian Food" because that would imply that American Italian food is somehow fake.)

                                                1. re: calumin

                                                  This has been interesting. I don't think I could ever call an Italian (or Mexican, or Asian) sauce 'gravy'. It reeks of my beloved midwestern small-town aunt and uncle's friends. They were so small-minded and set in their ways about food, but they actually made us a whole lot of rockin' good food, aunt Gin was a really good cook and excellent baker- nothing unusual, however. But then the grocery stores there would never have made it in a big town, either. Uncle Walt once chewed an Italian-immigrant restaurant owner up one side and down the other because "you DON'T EVER put garlic on lamb chops!"

                                                2. re: MysticYoYo

                                                  For any interested readers the above perfectly describes American Italian food.
                                                  You will not find anyone on the peninsula making meatballs, or adding them to "gravy" to be served on pasta.

                                                  To say "now THAT'S real Ialuan food to this post is gut wrenching to an Italian national.

                                                  A real Italian wouldn't even feed a meal like that to pigs.

                                                  In fact, real Italians feed pigs chestnuts so that they can make cured ham with a nuanced and unique flavor.
                                                  This is known as Prosciutto di Parma.

                                                  Real Italian food does not involve cheese from a can sprinkled on top of pasta or in soup. It is "grana," and it is grated fresh for every meal.
                                                  The most famous grana is Parmiggiano-Reggiano. The cows who make the cheese are fed local alfalfa, which imbues the cheese with a nuanced and unique flavor. This cheese is aged for at least two years.

                                                  So real Italian food? Think Prosciutto di Parma. Think of Parmiggiano Reggiano. Think of painstaking efforts to find delicate perfectly balanced flavors. Think of trying so hard to cook well that you are even conscious of the food you are feeding your livestock and it's impact on the final product.

                                                  American Italian food? Think of Chef Boyardee, meatballs, and ham-fisted lazy attempts at making something and calling it something it is not.

                                                  The difference, is in the style, the effort, the integrity, the labor, the exacting detail, the perfection.

                                                  The difference is everything.

                                                  1. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                    Wow that's pretty harsh. I don't know anyone that uses cheese from a can, or Chef Boyardee. Where are you getting this information?

                                                    1. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                      hmm my Italian-American family uses Reggiano and eats prosciutto di parma

                                                      1. re: JTPhilly

                                                        Just ran into this thread, and it hit me passionately.

                                                        If you're an American who has spent time in Italy, you know there's no question that Italian-American cuisine has little to do with the ingredients, methods, and conventions of Italy. Both can be quite good, but there's no comparison between the two. They both rely on the quality of ingredients, and how they are prepared.

                                                        I'm stumped at why you all are throwing barbs about Chef Boyardee, Kraft cheese in a can and Olive Garden, none of which represent Italian food. Just because there's pasta and (pseudo) cheese in a dish doesn't make it Italian. But neither does it make it less tasty.

                                                        Not everyone is schooled in how to make simple Italian food. Not everyone can afford to buy good Parmigiano.

                                                        Mangia!

                                                        Lori

                                                      2. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                        Your remarks, re: "pigs" are totally offensive and typically chauvenistic.

                                                        1. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                          "The difference, is in the style, the effort, the integrity, the labor, the exacting detail, the perfection."

                                                          and this

                                                          Do you not think Italian Americans place incredible importance on the preparation of their food? My family table is exquisite & impeccably sourced. There is legacy of our Italian heritage, polpette & crepes from Abruzzo, Neapolitan ragu etc adapted to a new world of ingredients and influences. It is undeniably American and stil inherently connected to Italian heritage.

                                                          Tex-Mex is not Mexican food, its not better or worse, its something else - Brisket Enchiladas are a beautiful thing as is Italian American "Sunday Sauce' still both are distinctly and undeniably American.

                                                          1. re: JTPhilly

                                                            Please note that this is a first time poster so maybe we should cut him some slack :)

                                                          2. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                            "In fact, real Italians feed pigs chestnuts so that they can make cured ham with a nuanced and unique flavor.
                                                            This is known as Prosciutto di Parma."

                                                            In Parma, pigs are traditionally fed whey left from the making of parmigiano cheese. Pigs are often fed chestnuts in Spain and America to make cured meat.

                                                            "Real Italian food does not involve cheese from a can sprinkled on top of pasta or in soup. It is "grana,"

                                                            In Italy, the supermarket shelves are filled with pre-grated cheese in plastic bags. It is very popular.

                                                            "So real Italian food? Think Prosciutto di Parma. Think of Parmiggiano Reggiano."

                                                            While thinking of it, one might want to spell it as it is spelled in Italy. Also one might want to think of the proscuitto of San Daniele, or Oswaldo. These are just as "real Italian" as proscuitto from Parma.

                                                            Etc etc.....

                                                            1. re: barberinibee

                                                              Well said.

                                                              Eh, join CH just to lob bombs? Thanks for defusing!

                                                            2. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                              He has a good point, maybe a little too far, as no one I know has eaten Chef Boyardee since they were 5 years old. That stuff is like gross baby food.

                                                              But back to his point, while some of us, or many of us do take care to source good products for our recipes, its still no where close to what he describes.

                                                              Average Americans don't have farms anymore. Its all big business on huge industrial scale. Sure there are small specialty farms and most of us here probably search for those products but I would venture to say that the typical non - ChowHound American dose not try so hard. It''s whatever they can find at the local super market. And, that group of people generally look for the lowest price over highest quality.

                                                              Not trying to offend, as I know probably all of you reading this board go way beyound normal to create good food, but I dont think you could say that is typical for the average Joe making spaghetti and meatballs.

                                                              On the plus side, here in California I have notices a lot of new upscale restaurants only serving locally sourced food. They menu changes based on what they get that day and they tell you where everything is from. So I see that as a good thing.

                                                              1. re: kjonyou

                                                                Crap food exists in Europe just like it does in the US. The idea that traditional Italian food is "better" simply because it is from some boot shaped peninsula in the middle of a filthy body of water is absurd.

                                                                Traditional Italian and American Italian are two different cuisines. Both can be exceptional, both can be made very poorly.

                                                                1. re: jpc8015

                                                                  I get what you are saying but your logic is flawed and anomalies are absurd. "filty body of water" really? Have you forgotten the BP Oil spill in the Gulf? 20 million gallons of crude oil is equal to nothing on the planet.

                                                                  Is there crap food in Europe? Sure. But your argument is black and white. We are talking about general consensus here not all or nothing. It's like saying the film industry is Europe is just as good and bad as America. It's not. America dominates the film industry and thats just a fact. Do we put of crap movies? Sure but that dose not mean over all that the best entertainment comes form America just like Italians (in general) take their food more seriously then Americans.

                                                                  You want fact? Ok, there are about 5 fast food chains in Italy. If the people there wanted them, there would be a lot more, even China has a McDonald's. You know how many fast food chains exist in America? Over 800! And each chain may have thousands of restaurants. That says a lot about a society even if you adjust for the population differences.

                                                                  Dose it mean we all eat there? No, but in general, Americans eat more crap food then Italians.

                                                                  1. re: kjonyou

                                                                    There are those of us who do NOT consider 99% of Hollywood movies to have anything to do with quality cinema. Note that I did NOT say US films. Most Hollywood movies are the cinematic equivalent of fast food, or perhaps its upscale version.

                                                                    This is NOT anti-US culture. There are fine quality cultural products from the US.

                                                                    1. re: kjonyou

                                                                      You are completely missing my point and I will venture to guess that you are missing it by design because of your "everything that has ever come from America sucks" attitude.

                                                                      Remember that your precious Apennine Peninsula is not a German speaking region today. You're welcome.

                                                                    2. re: jpc8015

                                                                      But on average you will experience less crap food in Europe as there are less large food chains (not only fast food chains) involved. That doesn't mean there are no food/restaurant chains or that a mom''n'pop shop can't make crappy food but it is less like. In addition food is part of the education early on in many countries, including school lunches, and so people are in general more educated and more critical about the quality of food and restaurant can't get away as easy with crap food in Europe.

                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                        Ironic, tho, that out of necessity, Europe is where bottled water hails from, whereas the US has a superior drinking water infrastructure

                                                                        1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                          Not if you look at the history of where bottled water came from. It goes back hundreds of years because they did what we are doing to today by polluting their own water supply. Doctors found if you drank bottled water, you would get healthier, but really didnt know why.

                                                                          America has good water because the Native Americans didn't pollute their own land, which of course he had to wipe out to take over and start the trashing.

                                                                          And by the way, not so good any more with all the fracking for oil. I dont call being able to light your tap water on fire good water....regardless of the cause.

                                                                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LBjSX...

                                                                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7zsQa...

                                                                          1. re: kjonyou

                                                                            The Native Americans? So you're saying the Europeans have poor water because they "trashed" their land? (And deforested themselves ironically) I believe the US has better water because of ecology, education, water treatment plants, sewage treatment, and mandated requirements for private septic systems. Hydrofracking is a whole nuther issue, a political football like HFCS, and American-Italian food!

                                                                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                              not sure how old you are, but clean bodies of fresh water in the us are a recent development. some of the great lakes were so polluted they would spontaneously combust and my local charles river, much like the thames in london, was a filthy pit.

                                                                              they were all industrial dumping grounds for centuries.

                                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                Define recent...I worked for a water utility for a few years...we have a rich history of forestry, clean water, stewardship of watersheds and wells that went back to the late 1800s. I may be wrong, but drinking water for Boston comes from aquifers north and west of the city, not the river

                                                                                  1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                    you are correct that our drinking water comes from the quabbin reservoir and not the charles. however that doesn't mean the latter wasn't filthy and taken as a cesspit for many decades.

                                                                                    lake erie and its previously flaming estuaries:

                                                                                    http://www.environmentalcouncil.org/p...

                                                                                    the river thames was biologically dead in the mid 20th-century:

                                                                                    http://www.lbhf.gov.uk/external/la21/...

                                                                                    " it gradually deteriorated again and by the 1950s, it was little more than an open sewer, containing no oxygen. The production of hydrogen sulphide gave off the smell of rotten eggs. The problem was further aggravated by fluctuating tides as it can take up to 80 days for water to be flushed out to the sea in periods of low rainfall. "

                                                                                    my beloved charles river:

                                                                                    http://www.crwa.org/charlesriver/history

                                                                                    "By the mid-1960's the river was in sorry shape after several years of lower-than-average rainfall. Raw sewage flowed from outmoded wastewater treatment plants. Toxic discharges from industrial facilities colored the river pink and orange. Fish kills, submerged cars and appliances, leaching riverbank landfills, and noxious odors were routine occurrences."

                                                                                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                  West Virginia comes to mind. Pretty recent, in a state that prides itself for having fewer regulations/less gubmint involvement. And that's "just* coal mining.

                                                                                    1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                      Pee is sterile and most certainly healthier than chemical run-off like MCHM or PPH.

                                                                                    2. re: linguafood

                                                                                      I didn't mention gubmint anything. If people, we the people, are stupid enough to taint their own water supply, so be it. There's lots of economic issues that come to mind with WVirginia (and Kentucky), like mountain top removal as well

                                                                              2. re: honkman

                                                                                I don't buy that there is less crap food in Europe. I've been to Holland and walked down the aisles of their grocery stores. They have the same type of low nutrition, high calorie crap sitting on the shelves that you will see in Detroit.

                                                                                Now what about all of the great Dutch cheeses and Belgian chocolates you ask? There are producers in America that are making them just as good. They may be a little different, but they are excellent products. And, if I insist on having the Dutch or Belgian versions, those are readily available in America as well.

                                                                                I know that the OP will argue that the cheeses and chocolates that I refer to are inferior based solely on the fact that they are produced in America. Some people just can't be helped.

                                                                                1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                  From my experiences in Europe, mainly France and Italy, I see less "crap" food there than in the US. Don't know about Holland. In France and Italy, the supermarkets dedicate more space to fruits and vegetables. The folks I know there (friends and family I have stayed with) buy fresh bread from the bakery, made without added sugar or preservatives. Few towns/small cities, at least the ones I've been to, have the American style fast food, or if they do, it's one or two. Restaurants I've wandered into for lunch were packed with workers, being served great plates of food for less than 10 euros (though the last time I was there was 2 years ago). School lunches bear zero resemblance to the frozen pizza/frozen chicken strips/frozen corn dogs that my daughter gets in her suburban school.

                                                                                  There's great food to be found in the US, including chocolates and cheeses, and breads and produce, etc. But on the whole, the average food quality, in my experience, is better in Europe than in the US. And for what it's worth, many indicators of health would support that.

                                                                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                    Okay, let me ask you this in relation to the original post...is the food of Italian immigrants to America automatically inferior to that of traditional Italian cooking as the OP suggests?

                                                                                    1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                      Tricky question. I don't think it's inferior, it's just different.

                                                                                      First, here's some personal experiences from my family in the French Haute Savoie that I visit every year to two. The bread all comes from their local boulangerie, a mile away. The cheese they buy is all produced within 50 miles. The vegetables almost always come from either their garden, or from markets that sell locally produced. The butter is locally produced and small batched, so much so that you can taste differences from one month to the other based on what the cows were eating. "Salami" isn't a generic cured sausage - there are dozens of varieties available in all of their markets. And they eat according to what is seasonally available - more potatoes, squashes and home canned goods in winter, fresh greens in spring and summer. In short, there's a lot of variety in what they eat, and it tends to be locally produced goods. While city-folk can't get all of the same access, in Paris, Annecy, Grenoble, and Lyon (the cities I'm familiar with and with people I know that live there) people tend eat local bread, eat local cheeses, and shop local markets.

                                                                                      My more limited Italian experience is similar, but again, more limited.

                                                                                      American Italian - the main difference here is that the same local ingredients, and the general ethos of eating seasonally and eating local, isn't as engrained as it is in Italy and France. Lots of people have talked about meatballs and sauce made with loving care. I'm sure it is, but it's usually made with canned tomatoes and beef that may come from anywhere in the US. There's a few examples of Italian American cooking using fresh, local, and seasonal, but Italian-American is a generic term, and in my experience with I-A cooking, it looks similar whether in NYC, Boston, or St. Paul MN. Italian cooking in Bergamo is different than it is in Venice, and very different than it is in Rome or Sicily.

                                                                                      A very long-winded way of saying that if using fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients matter, then IMO Italian-American cooking is inferior, only because of those issues. For those for who fresh, local and seasonal does not impact the final dish, then there's probably no difference.

                                                                                      1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                        Interesting.

                                                                                        Here in little Silverton, Oregon my wife makes the bread, the butter and cheese comes from two different creameries within a couple hours drive, the beef comes from a ranch just over the mountains near Bend, the tomatoes, peppers, and basil all are grown in my back yard, and the wine could come from any number of wineries within a twenty-five mile radius of my house.

                                                                                        I'll admit, the dried spaghetti we use comes from a blue box in the store...oh the horror.

                                                                                        1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                          There are certainly areas in the US that fresh and local ingredients are available, and that you have a garden. The emphasis on fresh and local, in the US, is somewhat recent - small breweries, cheese produces, artisan meats, etc. are a relatively new phenomena (with a very few exceptions) here in Minnesota. I've heard that Oregon has a strong tradition of fresh, local, and seasonal foods and cooking. But that's the exception in the US, not the rule. I don't think your experience is typical of that in most other place in the US, and that certainly wasn't the case in the vast majority of the US in the 70, 80's, and 90's.

                                                                                          1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                            Thanks for reminding about the local beer.

                                                                                            1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                              We are so lucky here on Long Island, lots of local breweries popping up and now hops is turning into a big local crop. I'm sure we're not the only ones!

                                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                                Here in the Willamette Valley you literally can not drive in any one direction for more than 10 minutes or so without happening upon a field of hops.

                                                                                                1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                                  We're getting there ourselves, finally something to look at besides vineyards!

                                                                                        2. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                          I wouldn't necessarily disagree with much of what you said, but with respect to the source of tomatoes used for making sauces by cooks in Italy, I think they use canned as much as we do. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

                                                                                          1. re: johnb

                                                                                            There is nothing wrong with canned tomatoes. There are some great tomatoes available in cans. Especially the ones that my wife cans herself from the tomatoes in our backyard.

                                                                                            1. re: johnb

                                                                                              johnb and jpc8015 - Agreed, there's nothing wrong with canned tomatoes, and I wouldn't doubt they are often used in Italy. Just like there's nothing wrong with boxed pasta, bottled water, tinned anchovies, etc. But that's not really the point.

                                                                                              1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                " Lots of people have talked about meatballs and sauce made with loving care. I'm sure it is, but it's usually made with canned tomatoes...."

                                                                                                Your words. Not mine.

                                                                                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                  As you say, not the point. Of course canned tomatoes are used in Italy, home-canned and otherwise, and plenty. Commercial products brag on the labels that they are grown and produced in Italy, and many people care what part of Italy the tomatoes are from. Anchovies have to be salt-cured, and how many people are going to do that at home, so of course they are store bought ("white" anchovies are marinated fresh fish and are not interchangeable with the widely used salt- or oil-packed). Of course people buy spaghetti.

                                                                                                  And of course there are people in the US who care about the quality of their ingredients, etc. But in my experience, which is considerable, I don't mind saying, it is a LOT easier to find the better-quality stuff in Italy. Foods that I can buy in the supermarket in Rome are sold in gourmet shops in New York, but I have no doubt that much of the good food I see at shops like Todaro in New York are used in Italian-American kitchens. And I'm sure restaurants like Carbone, which unabashedly serves very retro Italian-American dishes, seek out good raw materials. In other words, today in the 21st century, everybody is more conscious of ingredients, and that is probably not the issue, assuming we are comparing good Italian-American with good southern Italian, and not bad Italian-American with good Italian.

                                                                                                  I think it could be instructive to look at good examples of both styles to get at the difference in style. For one thing, I-A uses way more ingredients and seasonings than Italian. It is heavier, with more meats and cheeses, often together (not that these aren't used in the old country, but more for special occasions). A historical explanations for this is given in a very good book called "Delizie" by John Dickey (I believe), but probably elsewhere too.

                                                                                        3. re: jpc8015

                                                                                          Try finding Dutched Cocoa powder in a typical super market in the US, nearly imposable unless you order on line or go to a specialty or gourmet retail store.

                                                                                          Your argument is way too simplistic. Just because two countries have the same product, dose not equate to the same amount of consumption. I can find pigs feet in the use and in Mexico but that dose not mean we both eat them in the same quantity.

                                                                                  2. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                                                    Polpette definitely exist in Italy; they aren't served atop pasta. There are even vegetarian polpette di spinaci.
                                                                                    http://allrecipes.it/ricette/tag-992/...

                                                                                    It is true that Italians still don't rely on ready meals to the extent that is common in France, but not everyone in Italy takes such care with cooking. I've encountered bad and indifferent cooks there too.

                                                                                    Italian food evolved when Italians moved to North and South America (above all to the US and Argentina). Many traditional ingredients were unavailable; however meat was far more accessible even for poor workers. Not the best cuts though, hence meatballs.

                                                                                  1. re: SeoulQueen

                                                                                    That is simply a generalization and untrue in many, many cases.

                                                                                    You are describing MUCH of CHAIN ITALIAN AMERICAN FOOD.

                                                                                    There are THOUSANDS of excellent family owned italian american restaurants in this country.
                                                                                    Italian American cuisine is simply ITALIAN CUISINE ADAPTED TO AMERICAN INGREDIANTS.

                                                                                    Italian American cuisine is also usually SOUTHERN PEASANT COOKING.

                                                                                    Whatever dishes were brought over to this country by poor southern italians formed the foundation of italian american cooking.

                                                                                    As long as the restaurant is run by ITALIAN or italian americans, the chances are it will be good.

                                                                                    1. re: gabagool

                                                                                      I think if you're lucky enough to live somewhere that there are many Mom and Pop Italian places, you might not realize that a lot of this country only has chain food Italian. I remember going to California in the 70s and craving something parmigiana, or pizza, but it just didn't exist back then. Things have changed, but I can understand: stranger in a strange land.

                                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                                        What about North Beach in San Francisco or Little Italy in San Diego? In Los Angeles the Italian population disbursed during World War II out of fear of persecution and possible internment.

                                                                                        1. re: artgalgenius

                                                                                          Yes, this was when I visited Los Angeles and San Fran for a week or so back in the 70s, as I said, and it was shocking to me at the time. I had some really good pizza at a bar in Wyoming though. I was also in the mood for anything veal but no dice. Now when I'm visiting family in San Diego, it's Mexican all the way, sis who lives there tells me don't even think about the pizza so I can't say personally. But they eat out almost every meal, so I take her word for it. I'll ask her about "Little Italy".

                                                                                          1. re: artgalgenius

                                                                                            North Beach in SF is almost the worst place here to go for actual Italian food. With very few exceptions, it's bad Italian American food geared to tourists thinking they're getting the real thing.

                                                                                            1. re: EatingSF

                                                                                              In fact, Alioto's is very good, if a bit over-priced.

                                                                                          2. re: coll

                                                                                            If you want fresh pasta, thin crust pizza, homemade gnocchi and live in So Cal, try Eatalian. I just had a Margherita for lunch and it was fantastic. I'm even reluctant to post this cause the place is already crowded as it is. I also had their fresh tagliatelle al ragu - heaven. If you wanna talk good Italian food - whether its American Italian or Italian Italian - try this place. (No - I don't own the place. A guy with a thick Italian accent owns it.)

                                                                                          3. re: gabagool

                                                                                            "As long as the restaurant is run by ITALIAN or italian americans, the chances are it will be good."

                                                                                            I'm an Italophile myself, but I wouldn't say that statement is true at all. Plenty of cheap, crappy red sauce made by Italian-Americans in the US, just like there's plenty of cheap, crappy Chinese-American food made by people with Chinese heritage.

                                                                                            1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                              do all americans cook american food well? of course not.so why should all italians do italian food well?

                                                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                                                Right. That's what I was saying.

                                                                                                1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                  threads are tricky - i wasnt implying you said the other, i was agreeing and expanding on your post

                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                    Ha, yes they are. Not least since I was responding to something written 5 months ago anyway. Ah well.

                                                                                            2. re: gabagool

                                                                                              In the Bay Area, especially So. City, most of the old Italians were from the North...specifically Tuscany. The fishermen in SF were from Sicily.

                                                                                          4. It's complicated....a fairly high level of sweetness is a characteristic of many real Shanghainese dishes, and an integral part of the cuisine, so sweetness is not a factor that rules out real Chinese food (for example). The differences aren't going to be clear cut, but a combination, especially when Chinese or Italian actually refers to many diverse cuisines, rather than a monolithic style.

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Maximilien

                                                                                                Shouldn't that be "It'sa compluhcated"

                                                                                              2. re: limster

                                                                                                Agree. Sometime, it is not very clear cut. There are definitely sweet Chinese dishes.